After more than four years of product development and intensive on-site testing, SpiderCloud are emerging with a robust, high capacity solution for the large enterprise. What is so unique and relevant about their approach?
The enterprise small cell segment may have the highest revenues
Of the three main categories of small cells – residential, public access and enterprise – it is this last option which is now gaining more attention. While residential products will undoubtedly win out in sheer volume, the value of enterprise small cells has been forecast to exceed that of both other segments. Perhaps that's because so much of our mobile service consumption is indoors, and the value of business critical voice and data traffic is high.
By comparison, we've seen several large players address the enterprise Wi-Fi marketplace, such as Aruba Networks. They've invested in specific technology designed to cater to the needs of the business environment, with higher reliability, robustness and performance than lower cost residential products.
Several small cell vendors have also scaled up their products to address the enterprise segment, using newer releases of silicon capable of higher traffic capacity, higher RF power levels for wider coverage and a variety of software features.
SpiderCloud announce they're ready for the challenge
SpiderCloud have targeted this large enterprise space from the outset, aiming at venues and locations with 150 up to 15,000 people. Until recently, they've been lurking quietly in the background, but are now ready to come out with a more public marketing program.
A recent press release, jointly with Mindspeed, reinforced the amount of specialist development work they have invested already. The two companies have been working together for four years – a 2 year joint development followed by a further 2 year of intensive field testing to ensure the solution is very robust.
Externally, the solution is completely standards based and interworks with any 3G UMTS device. Spidercloud, who have raised over $100 million to date, have invested significant time and resources to develop a unique PHY, MAC and upper layers solution. The company has designed their own PHY layer (the low level software that drives the radio interface) with support from Mindspeed. Some of these features will be incorporated into Mindspeed's roadmap; a few are already included in their standard product.
Perhaps the most significant differentiator is that of soft handoff. This allows a handset to switch seamlessly between radio heads without requiring any extra signalling co-ordination, reducing the likelihood of dropped calls and improving battery life. The soft handoff feature of an RNC has been replicated within the system. It's a critical feature for the large enterprise and no other Mindspeed customers yet have this system-level solution.
SpiderCloud's Service Node, which is co-located in the building and co-ordinates between the radio access points, brings many unique features too. The entire installation is connected to the small cell gateway and to all practical purposes appears as one single cell, hiding a lot of the complexity and improving backhaul efficiency. Other enterprise specific features include W-Fi, security and remote management of the system. The "secret sauce" of the solution is the co-ordination and scheduling software combined with the intellectual property between the Services Node and up to 75 eNodeB radio access points.
Extensive trial period
SpiderCloud have worked closely with Vodafone, conducting an extensive testing and trial phase, to ensure the solution is robust and resilient enough to meet the needs of the most demanding business customers. The solution has been installed in the headquarters of several large UK businesses, and is now proven to a point where it is ready to be deployed more widely. NEC announced it has added this to its solution portfolio in June.
Competing with DAS
Today, many of these large buildings are covered by DAS (Distributed Antenna Solutions), which is considered more of a coverage rather than capacity solution. It's expensive and time consuming to install and requires specialist RF planning skills. By contrast, enterprise small cells can be installed by wiring technicians, meaning that the number and speed of installations. Using power-over-Ethernet, only a single cable run is needed to each radio head, reducing the installation time.
Vendors compare enterprise Wi-Fi and small cells
"We think the Enterprise market will be very significant", said Rupert Baines of Mindspeed. "It may well become a larger market by value than residential. Just look at how Aruba recently reported over $500m annual turnover, and they are only one of several large enterprise Wi-Fi vendors. I don't see why the enterprise small cell market couldn't grow to a similar scale".
"Although cellular operators are CAPEX constrained at the moment, their existing DAS budgets may be redirected towards enterprise small cell technology. Furthermore, the hidden costs paid by today's enterprise CIO's who fund some of these DAS systems as part of their office building programs may also be brought into play. With enterprise customers offering the highest ARPU and thus the greatest value to network operators, surely the good returns will justify continued or even increased investment in this sector."
Read our interview with Ronny Haraldsvik, CMO of SpiderCloud, from 2009, much of which remains valid today.